Last year, I wrote Why I'm going shirtless which details my personal struggle with body image. If you haven't yet read it, start there, then come back and continue reading.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled to accept the way my body looks. Specifically, I struggle with how my stomach looks. Not that I think I am fat (although I previously thought that I was), but that I don't like the way I look or how I feel. As a perfectionist, I never quite feel good enough.
Do you know what I mean?
Anyway, it was always my stomach that I was uncomfortable with. Generally speaking, I felt pretty good about my other body parts. As a tall woman, I hardly ever felt insecure about my long legs. The great legs gene runs in my family. I get it from my mama.
I have been practicing Ashtanga Yoga daily for over a year now, and with this kind of commitment to my practice, you can imagine that I've gotten much stronger and much more flexible. However, just a few months ago, I stumbled upon a hurdle in my yoga practice. Let's call it a mental block rather than a physical limitation.
Although, our mental struggles show up in the physical body, do they not?
In yoga, and in life, we learn things based on our current abilities. Then, as our abilities improve, we usually have to go back and relearn things to improve our abilities even more. In my yoga practice, I originally learned to do things based on my lack of strength or flexibility. Then, as I became stronger and more flexible, I relearned the same things, but in a more challenging way so I can continue to build strength and flexibility.
For those of you who are familiar with Ashtanga Yoga, my teacher has given me permission to practice the entire primary series, and as of recently, the first several poses of the second series (woo hoo!).
For those of you who are not familiar with Ashtanga Yoga, what I just wrote translates to: my yoga practice is long (over ninety minutes) and really fucking challenging.
I am by no means a super advanced practitioner, but I am advanced enough in my practice that my teacher recognized that I was ready to be more challenged. My teacher told me that if I wanted to be stronger, I needed to wear less clothes.
She said, "It's time for you to start practicing in shorts."
My teacher explained that when we practice in pants, we become dependent on our clothing to hold us in the pose. When you have skin on skin, it challenges you to find a different kind of strength.
See the below poses as examples. These are some of the poses my teacher was speaking specifically about. Skin on skin -- or if we're being honest, sweaty skin on sweaty skin -- will definitely add more challenges to your practice. Practicing these poses while wearing shorts is a completely different experience compared to practicing them while wearing pants.
Even though I have always felt pretty confident about my legs, the idea of practicing in shorts made me feel nervous. Just the idea of being in shorts made me feel exposed and vulnerable.
Ah, to be vulnerable. It's quite scary!
I want to be stronger...so I did as she said. The next time I practiced, I practiced in shorts.
And I hated it. It was weird. I felt exposed. There was sweat everywhere. And my practice was really, really challenging!
It took me about a dozen times of practicing in my shorts before it began to feel normal. And guess what? Now it's my preference! That's right. Off with the pants, on with the shorts.
Do I feel exposed, vulnerable, and self conscious? Absolutely.
Am I being challenged more in my practice by wearing shorts instead of pants? Most definitely.
Is my practice stronger? Hell yes.
My Ashtanga teacher is the same teacher who says, "each pose has a lesson to be learned. Are you ready to learn the lesson?"
I'm ready to go shirtless. And I'm ready to take my pants off.
Open your eyes and prepare your mind. The lesson is there if you are ready to learn.
You are so much more than just your body.